Addressing student concerns to reinstate grade change option from Winter 2020

C/O Engin Akyurt

As we head into the last half of the 2021 winter semester, McMaster University students are beginning to call for an option to make this semester’s grades on a pass/fail basis. One such student is Rozhan Estaki, a second-year sociology student minoring in mental health and addictions.

Estaki started a petition on March 1 to have McMaster bring back the pass/fail option for winter 2021. This option was given in winter 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt and complete shift from in-person to online learning.

Estaki started a petition on March 1 to have McMaster bring back the pass/fail option for winter 2021. This option was given in winter 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic led to an abrupt and complete shift from in-person to online learning.

“We got the opportunity last year to take the pass or fail option,” explained Estaki. “Although the situation is not as new [as winter 2020], it doesn't mean that online learning has gotten any easier.” 

“Although the situation is not as new [as winter 2020], it doesn't mean that online learning has gotten any easier.” 

Rozhan Estaki

She started the petition after talking to many of her friends and peers, who were all still struggling with online classes, especially this semester.

“It seems [like] we're covering [more in] what feels like a less amount of time,” emphasized Estaki.

As of March 7, the petition has 171 signatures, a number that has continued to grow each day. 

Estaki expressed surprise over the amount of signatures. “I didn't think it would have such a positive turnover,” said Estaki.

In terms of the petition’s impact, Estaki hoped that it is something that will allow for professors and students to come to a common ground of understanding. 

“It would be [important] to have Mac recognize that we as students are trying so hard. We appreciate the efforts that McMaster [and their] staff are putting in, but it just might feel like too much for some of us, [especially in terms of] mental health . . . we want people to see that, to recognize that, and to be comfortable with what we're producing,” said Estaki. 

To evaluate the online learning environment, McMaster launched a virtual learning task force in fall 2020. The task force consisted of over 30 faculty, staff and students that collected feedback from the McMaster community about the virtual learning experience. This included the MacPherson Institute’s Fall 2020 Experience Survey in October that got over 3,000 responses from students and instructors. 

The final report, released in November 2020, provided 21 recommendations for the university for winter 2021, especially highlighting the need for stronger mental health and support for well-being

Estaki hoped that the petition will be an opportunity to raise awareness on student concerns and at the very least, start a conversation among McMaster faculty and administration about the pass/fail option. 

“Mac is working hard towards inclusivity and especially in recognizing students with mental health concerns. I just think there's always room for improvement, and this is one of those things that should at least be considered,” said Estaki.

“Mac is working hard towards inclusivity and especially in recognizing students with mental health concerns. I just think there's always room for improvement, and this is one of those things that should at least be considered.”

Rozhan Estaki

A McMaster initiative will change the way students interact with the University online.

The school is working on a project called Mosaic, an initiative that aims to replace the current business process with a new enterprise resource planning, or ERP system.

The project is set to be fully operational in the Fall of 2015, though the MUGSI/SOLAR revamp was originally slotted to launch this summer.

Mosaic is a “student service centre that will provide students with self service capabilities and one place for all their administrative information,” said Melissa Pool of the University Registrar.

Students will be able to log in and see their admission status, student fees, scholarships and awards, registration, schedules, and degree audits, according to Pool.

Students will also be able to request their transcripts online, as well as view their unofficial transcripts.

“You will be able to see your full record, as opposed to just partial like it is now,” said Pool.

MUGSI and SOLAR will be replaced with a new registration system. Students will still have designated times to log on and register, but will no longer receive that annoying message that the website is full.

“The rush to register at midnight will be replaced with staggered registration times that guarantee system access,” said Pool.

Students will be able to see their timetables immediately, and register into preferred sections if they are available.

“It really takes the anxiety out of the process,” said Pool of these changes.

However, if there is no room in your preferred section students will have to continue to check for spaces.

Staff and faculty across the University are already using a Mosaic system. This part of the project launched at the beginning of Dec. 2013 and is being used, mostly, for financial purposes such as research grant applications and awards.

The undergraduate application process will remain the same for the University but the grad school application process will be a part this new web system.

As it becomes closer to being ready for student use, Mosaic hopes to get student representatives to help in the decision-making processes.

“About 130 people are currently working on it in total,” said Sheldon Smart of Mosaic.

These people are always changing as different aspects of the project are put in motion. So far the new system has approximately 700 users per day. The project is also involved with Deloitte consulting firm, financial affairs, and University Technology Services.

Smart did not comment on how much exactly this project will be costing and if these costs will be affecting students directly. Students will not see the cost of Mosaic specifically on their list of student fees, but financing for the project will be coming out of the overall budget of the University.

A couple months into the project, Smart noted that there have been anticipated challenges as the system is brand new and training for users is ongoing.

Smart and Pool both believe that this project will result in an improved experience for the McMaster student.

“We are really excited to provide this for students,” said Pool.

The MSU is bringing back the #WheresTheWifi hashtag after partnering with UTS on a $100,000 Wi-Fi pilot project on campus.

New surveys on the MSU’s website and Facebook page were released Monday to gather feedback on which areas of campus are most in need of Wi-Fi.

Huzaifa Saeed, VP (Education), who sits on the Wi-Fi working group and is spearheading this year’s pilot project, says it’s an important step towards a larger-scale initiative.

The Wi-Fi working group consists of UTS, CLL, Library, Facility Services and the Registrar.

“I will be reporting to UTS later this week, and we will work out where we can spend the money,” said Saeed.

“I think it’s important for students to contribute, especially since Wi-Fi was such a big issue in the last [MSU] election,” he said.

In less than 24 hours, over 600 votes were casted on the MSU’s channels. So far, the Burke Science Building and Student Centre seem to be where most students have identified the greatest need for Wi-Fi.

The survey on the MSU’s website differs from the one on Facebook, providing a longer list of choices and asking for student satisfaction with Wi-Fi on campus.

Mukhtar Galan, current SRA representative (Engineering), ran with the slogan ‘Where’s the Wi-Fi?’ in his presidential campaign this past January.

Galan said he is very supportive of the pilot project and student poll.

“There are a lot of empty tables and study spaces on campus that can’t be used because there’s no Internet connection,” he said. “We have good space, we just need to optimize it.”

“I was surprised to hear from so many first-years last year that they couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi in some common rooms,” said Galan. “I think that’s a problem.”

However, the cost to expand Wi-Fi in residences is closer to $500,000, says Saeed, so it wouldn’t be feasible as part of the pilot project.

“After the project, [the MSU] will be submitting a multi-million dollar proposal to the University for Wi-Fi upgrades on campus,” Saeed said.

UTS’s website states that areas eligible for University funding are public gathering areas for students where there is seating or workspace. This includes lobbies, libraries and lounges.

‘Out of scope’ areas for Wi-Fi funding by UTS are classrooms, administrative areas, and faculty and staff offices. Wi-Fi improvements for these areas can be secured through departmental or project funding if available.

Discussions to improve Wi-Fi on campus, in addition to other technological services on campus, have been ongoing for years.

Last year, MSU President Matthew Dillon-Leitch and executives worked to get UnivMail undergraduate e-mail accounts migrated to Google.

The University’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) project was also announced last year. The purpose of the five-year project is to modernize and streamline McMaster’s outdated business processes.

The initiative entered the ‘fit-gap’ stage earlier this month. During this stage, members of the implementation team will examine how the selected PeopleSoft software fits McMaster’s business process needs, and where there are gaps.

 

 

 

 

 

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